It’s time to ban the dreaded phrase ‘senior citizen’. And here’s why.

 

I am not old. My birth certificate and my body may tell a different story. But my mind – and my attitude – say otherwise. And I just wish the world around me would stop trying to get me to change my mind.

The ‘offence’ started a good while ago. My 55th birthday was marked and marred by a mailing from Saga – those blue rinse cruise people – inviting me to do something or other.

That put an end to what was never going to be a good relationship. It was also the opening shots in what has become an ongoing assault on the way I wish to see myself. The biggest culprit being that horrid label ‘senior citizen’ that seems to come from everywhere.

I find I’m in good company – including, possibly, yours. This company includes 78 year-old Retirement and Career Coach Gary Foster.

Recently Gary said, when it comes to senior citizen, ‘I refuse to put myself in that category. This is not a denial that I am not older than most or that I’m not getting older. I just don’t need another moniker to remind me and to plunk me into a category that has a negative tone’.

Absolutely.

Of course, it is markedly better than ‘golden years’, ‘elderly’, ‘old codger’ and such. But do we even need a defining category? To be pigeonholed with words conjuring up the image of a shuffling couple trying to cross the road – as the road sign depicts so unhelpfully?

Quick story. My wife, Rosie, hit 60 – and thus was now a pensioner. Caught up in a raid on a jewellers (she lives that kind of exciting life) she came face to face with a local reporter wanting her story. When asked her age (what did that have to do with anything?!) she was wise enough to know what was ahead.

To say ‘60’ would have the paper designate her as ‘pensioner Rosie Meadows’. Not ‘vibrant mother of five’, not ‘former actress’, not ‘world traveller’, not ‘former business owner’. But ‘pensioner’ – with all negative images it throws up.

So Rosie answered ‘59’ – though she could easily have got away with ten years less. And her fingers were crossed, of course.

My point? It’s that words matter – especially when rather than being life-enhancing they create negativity and point to the bad smell of being past your sell by date.

Gary Foster astutely notes why we are where we are. The blame falls at the feet of psychologists and marketers he claims saying, ‘Until 1904 we had two age categories – adult and child. Then, in 1904, the President of the American Physicalists Association invented the term “adolescent.”’

From there came the growth to seven categories: newborn, infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adult, middle age, and old age. As Gary puts it, ‘Each is a lucrative market for psychologists and clever marketers.’

However, since the 1900s the time span between middle age and old age has extended dramatically. Gary says, ‘Senior citizen probably made sense when you were automatically there at 65 in the eyes of the government, financial industry, the general public and were facing just a few years before checking out.’

But no longer is that the way life is. Those once tagged ‘old’ or ‘senior’ may now have some 20 to 40 years ahead with mostly good health. And it is demeaning, even cruel, to badge them – and treat them – as though this is not the case.

What’s being described here are Baby Boomers– those born during the years after the last war. The generation that spawned Paul McCartney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elton John, Meryl Streep and such.

As Marc Freedman, author of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations says, ’Baby boomers and the generations following them don’t think in terms of years or age. After all, it was the baby boomer generation that coined ‘60 is the new 40.’

Marc adds that boomers have benefited from medical and technological revolutions and been subject to the explosion of the ‘how to make you look and feel younger’. With the outcome that most refuse to accept that ageing will lead to less productive years.

That’s me. It may well be you. And it’s why I’ll fight tooth and nail to escape from being a ‘senior citizen’ either in name or attitude.

Gary Foster has his own very American way of expressing his feelings on the subject – regarding himself as ‘a fully-functioning septuagenarian with more gas in my tank than I had when I was wandering in the haze of corporate life at age 50.’

He also fights back by seeking out other ‘kick-ass’ (I warned you he’s American) people like him who refuse to play ball with the ageism that terms like ‘senior citizen’ represent.

He even defines what he means by ‘kick-ass’. Here’s my massaged version. You know that’s you if you are –

Something of a rebel: Resistant to – and outspoken about –ageist stereotypes, attitudes, and comments about ageing.

Have high energy: Driven with a late-life sense of purpose.

In charge of your health: Deliberately doing the right things to promote the health of your body and mind.

Curious: Committed to continue learning, exploring and growing in the fullest way.

Creative: Actively showing that ideas and their expression don’t deteriorate with age.

Selfless producer rather than a self-indulgent consumer: Giving back, paying forward, by sharing skills, experiences, talents with those coming up behind.

Necessary: Living to be important to someone all the time.

Which brings us full circle back to ‘if not “senior citizens” then what?’. If there has to be something then I’m attracted to the solution from Maureen Connors, a San Francisco retail consultant.

Maureen recently told the Boston Globe she coined the term ‘perennials’ as a play on ‘millennials.’

Perennial = ‘lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring or continually recurring.’

Yes. That would do me nicely.

And if you’d like a bit more on the negative views of aging here’s a link to a blog you may have missed – Don’t fall for this ‘best before’ nonsense – about food or yourself.

How do you feel about ‘senior citizen’? Do you have a better version to suggest? Please tell all either here or on the AfterWorkNet Facebook community

Peter Meadows

Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He’s using his retirement to help churches, resource inter-church initiatives, and escapes to Spain when he can.

Comments

  1. A very good article, I am a baby boomer and what I dislike intently is being lumped in with the preceding generation. i was in our local corner shop during lock down when a young shop assistant asked me if the current situation was like during the war, to which I replied that I couldn’t answer that since the war was history to me.
    this caused some shock, I also detest being talked down to as if I wasn’t fully compos mentis
    Yes we need to have it made clear that one size does not fit all

  2. Yes indeed ….as Clint Eastwood so succinctly said about being so active still in his 90s ….don’t let the old man in!! One little comment re 1904 .twas much earlier than that …. Shakespeare’s 7 Ages of Man 😉

    1. Bang on! As I was reading ‘Seven ages of man’ came to mind. I was thinking about Shakespears life and the world in which he lived. There was no such social support networks in his day as we have now. For better or worse?

  3. We were at a miniture village 20 yrs ago and my 8 yr old son asked what Oaps were . I asked where he saw the word and he pointed to the entrance fee board so I explained it was in initials for Old Age Pensioners !! So when I turned 60 I said I was now an oap !! At that time he was still being home educated and so I got my pension and child benefit !!
    Another thing I fought was the idea that full time mums are not doing anything . I was told that by a young girl doing a survey . She was going to put unemployef !

  4. When I was a lad growing up in Cumberland/North Lancs there was a doggerel rejoinder: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but calling names won’t hurt me!” Now, like my wife, in our 87th year, still active in body, mind, and spirit, we grow around 12 varieties of vegetables, and 12 varieties of fruit, in our two lawn, extensively bordered garden. as yet, without any outside assistance: and as recently as a fortnight ago taking Sunday and mid-week services when our vicar was on holiday. How others call, categorize, or regard us is of little consequence. Others may look upon our outward, and pensioner appearance but the Lord looks upon our heart. Yours, because His, Frank Bovill.

  5. I’ve published a reasonable amount in this kind of area within the context of my theolinguistic academic research. I often mention that my late very devout Evangelical parents both lived to around 87 but ‘never got old’ (a ‘construction’ from the viewpoint of their Christian community). They were baptised at ABC, Southampton, in 1938, and were Christians who ‘happened to be young’ who eventually became Christians who ‘happened to be elderly’ (including at a very practical level such as frequent home visits). In broad terms this is linked to the ‘Big church – Small family’ of those days which seems often to have been reversed by our times of course. I myself remember that as a boy under 10 in the 1950s, when I was too young, then later occasionally too sick, on Sunday evenings one parent would stay home with me while the other went to church at ABC. Our era now is v different including much more stressful, but at the same timeI think this was significant developmentally for me at least in the context of the times. Not only were we all less consumerist, I was also of course learning that I was not the centre of the universe.

  6. I don’t understand the objection. The title is better than Old Age Pensioner!
    It could be understood to show that those of us in this age group(I am 80) have wisdom experience and have much to offer the younger generation

  7. The article misses the point, even though it does it amusing! In Old Testament and New Testament cultures to be old was to be respected – you were the pinnacle of society. God saw older people as societal elders, as ‘seniors’ in the real sense of the word. Wisdom was valued as the peak achievement of culture (with the aged is wisdom, said Job.) Now, our society’s peak achievement is physical and economic. How good you look and how much you contribute economically. Instead of refusing to be called old, we need to address the cultural values that have turned God’s life design upside down. Sadly, as a recent study by a leading gerontologist and epidemiologist shows, we have ALL absorbed ageism to the point where it damages our lives – and our economy. We believe it ourselves.
    ( https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30423119/ ). But others, like the Professor who produced the report, and the WHO and others who see the damage are fighting to reverse it. (None the least because it costs the USA economy $63 bn a year.) So don’t fight terminology – save your energy to fight ageism. We need to wake up – we need to star a ‘Woke’ movement against ageism.

  8. When the word “senior” attracted connotations of experience, wisdom, perhaps having a measure of authority then the phrase “senior citizen” was, to me, a dignified and respectful description. To be honest, it still doesn’t rankle with me overmuch except that I do not feel like one at the moment.

    When I was in my 40s, my image of someone in their 70s was old, shuffling along probably aided by a walking stick. Now I am midway into my 70s I do not feel like that but evidently I do look like the age I am because, on a few occasions, well mannered school children or younger people including women have offered their seat to me on a bus. On one occasion I was wearing a track suit having a ride home having completed a 7 miles power walk, although they did not know the backstory. Appearing to look my age to others serves a generous dose of humility to my ego.

    Conversely, I have had the flattering experience of someone asking if I minded revealing how old I am or what I do for a living and when I informed them I am retired and I was 68, 71, 73 or whatever it was at the time, then get the reaction, “Nooo! You’re not! You’re kidding me. I don’t believe it”, that is a lovely feel good feeling.
    At that moment, being labelled “Senior Citizen” doesn’t fit that well. Of all the terms that can be applied to that age group it is much better than when a colleague 6 years my junior and myself used to be referred to as a couple of “old coffin dodgers” even if it was in the spirit of banter. He, himself, was only 15 years younger at the time.

  9. What a load of codswallop! I am an 80 year old senior citizen and proud to be so. For goodness sake STOP your sillyness and get off this stupid and nonsensical hobby horse. Thankyou. You will do anything to get an email address

    1. Thank you for expressing your view John. But please be sure the only way we receive an email address is when someone chooses to provide it.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife